What Examiners Look for in an Essay or Dissertation

It doesn’t matter what subject you study or at what level you study it, from the age of 14 onwards you will no doubt find that you are tasked with writing an essay or two…and those lucky individuals who go on to study an academic subject at University will find themselves writing half a dozen essays every couple of months. Within education it is almost impossible to avoid the dreaded task of essay or dissertation writing.

Essays and dissertations are predominately used in two ways:

1. An essay title or subject is set, and students are given a finite amount of time to go away and research the subject, and construct a well informed essay that responds to either the subject matter put forward for discussion, or that answers the specific essay question that has been set.

2. The completion of an essay sits as part of a timed examination. Students are led into an exam room, given a paper that contains a number of essay titles that they need to respond to, and they are given a short amount of time (usually no more than 3 hours) to write an essay on this subject or against the posed essay title. In this instance it is recognised that the level of research that goes into the essay will be limited, given that the students will not (normally) have access to text books, reference material and that all important World Wide Web.

The majority of students will find that they have to experience both types of essay writing requirements at some point in their life. And the one crucial theme that runs through both of these different essay writing requirements is this…the aim of the essay written should be to fulfil the examiner’s or marker’s requirements as best as possible. The success of your essay or dissertation lies in how well you tick all of their boxes so to speak!

So what is it that examiners are looking for when they mark an essay or dissertation?

– They want to see that you have addressed the question that has been posed. So many students make the fatal mistake of writing down everything they know about a subject matter, without actually thinking about what the question is asking. Marks will be lost (and substantial marks at that) if you simply write down everything you know about the subject matter. Less is more sometimes with articles, so think about including only the content that is relevant to the specific question raised – nothing more.

– They want to finish reading the article and come away with the feeling that you really did know the subject matter. This means demonstrating a knowledge of the subject matter in hand. Good ways to do this are to include quotations, examples and case studies.

– They will look to see if you can form an argument. This could include making up your own mind about a particular subject, or it could be analysing the arguments of others and deciding which you more strongly agree with.

– They will look to see how well your technical writing skill is. Can you form decent sentences? Is your spelling and grammar accurate? Have you muddled your tenses?